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Human trafficking and sexual exploitation in Iraq

By Jim Kouri
web posted March 13, 2006

Besides all the problems facing the fledgling Iraqi democracy, they also face a growing problem with human trafficking to other middle eastern nations, according to the US State Department.

While Iraq doesn't join Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and other countries listed as serious problem areas for modern slavery, there is still concern. Elections were held in January 2005 for a Transitional National Assembly, and the new government is currently taking shape to draft a constitution and formulate government policies. It's hoped that one of the policies formulated will be an anti-human trafficking and sex slavery policy in order to avoid future exploitation of mostly women and children, although men are often forced into slave labor.

Iraq is a country of origin for women and girls trafficked to Yemen, Syria, Jordan, and Gulf countries for the purposes of sexual and labor exploitation, say State Department officials. Some Iraqi women and underage girls are reportedly trafficked from rural areas to cities within Iraq itself.

According to diplomatic and international organization sources in Syria and Yemen, there are thousands of Iraqi women working in prostitution in the two countries under conditions that constitute severe forms of trafficking in persons.

In Damascus, many women and girls are exploited in commercial sexual situations in nightclubs and other establishments in Iraqi-populated areas, with some living and working under coercive conditions. Due to the special circumstances in Iraq, it is difficult to appropriately gauge the human trafficking situation in the country.

In 2004, Iraq investigated major crimes against women, some involving activities related to trafficking. Earlier versions of the 2004 Basic Police Course for Iraqi officers included a section on trafficking. However, this course was substituted with additional security training in order to address the ongoing insurgency and foreign terrorists.

Hopefully, as the security situation stabilizes, this training will be reinstituted to give Iraqi police the necessary tools to identify, develop, and prosecute trafficking cases. The Iraqi Interest Section in Syria works regularly with Syrian police to help Iraqi women accused of engaging in prostitution. Iraqi border controls are improving and are expected to stem illegal migration and trafficking of persons across the border.

Although there are no Non-Governmental Organizations or international organizations working on trafficking specifically, the NGO Women-for-Women promotes women’s programs, which indirectly help trafficking victims. Additionally, some NGOs have established safe houses in Baghdad and northern Iraq to shelter abused women, including possible trafficking victims.

The post-Saddam era is marked with significant challenges. As Iraq moves forward on the path to democracy and builds its internal security, administration, and infrastructure, the government should develop and integrate mechanisms for combating trafficking. This process must begin with an assessment of the situation.

Similarly, consular officers in destination countries need training to better assist victims. Iraqi police and immigration officers should also be given appropriate training to identify and assist trafficking victims.

Law enforcement officials throughout Iraq must work hard in order to avoid being listed with the worst nations for sex exploitation of women and children, as well as forced labor. The worst countries listed by the US State Department and the United Nations are: Bolivia, Burma, Cambodia, Cuba, Ecuador, Jamaica, Kuwait, Mexico, North Korea, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Togo, United Arab Emirates, and Venezuela. Their records for protecting men, women and children from becoming enslaved are abysmal.

Jim Kouri, CPP is currently fifth vice-president of the National Association of Chiefs of Police and he's a staff writer for the New Media Alliance. He's former chief at a New York City housing project in Washington Heights nicknamed "Crack City" by reporters covering the drug war in the 1980s. He's also served on the National Drug Task Force and trained police and security officers throughout the country. Kouri writes for many police and security magazines including Chief of Police, Police Times, The Narc Officer and others. He's appeared as on-air commentator for over 100 TV and radio news and talk shows including Oprah, McLaughlin Report, CNN Headline News, MTV, Fox News, etc. His book Assume The Position is available at Amazon.Com. Kouri's own website is located at http://jimkouri.us


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